Life on the road is already looking brighter for the Western Force after a late penalty earned them a 21-19 pre-season win over the Queensland Reds at their Ballymore heartland.
The Force (5-9) missed finals by one victory last Super Rugby Pacific season, despite not registering a win away from Perth.
But coach Simon Cron said the recruitment of Wallabies five-eighth Ben Donaldson, who controlled play in a 46-minute stint on Saturday, and veteran halfback Nic White among others had already made an impact.
Cron joked that touring had already become easier because, unlike last season, “everyone gets on”.
“We had to make a lot of changes in the organisation and … a lot of that’s been done now,” he said.
“It’s a completely different culture.
“The way we play, he (Donaldson) will get a lot of touches.
“But it’s combinations of players that change it, we can’t pin it on one guy.”
Skipper Michael Wells, who took over the role last season immediately after departing the Melbourne Rebels, said the victory in Brisbane was “the first step”.
“Credit to how Donno (Donaldson) ran the game and the standards Whitey’s driving, even though he’s at home (with a shoulder injury), it’s hard to replace,” he said.
“In terms of bringing respect to the Force … the best way to do that is winning games.
“I don’t want to be a comeback team, I want to be a team that wins from the front.”
The Force were forced to come back on Saturday after a bright start, with wing recruit Harry Potter crossing twice in the first of three 30-minute periods.
The Reds ate up a 13-3 deficit with tries to Harry Wilson, Tim Ryan and Joe Brial to lead 19-13.
But the Force held them scoreless in the final period, Chase Tiatia’s lovely left-foot cross-field kick hitting try-scorer Ronan Leahy on the chest, before Ian Prior’s 88th-minute penalty put them ahead.
“There’s a lot we learnt, that’s for sure,” Reds coach Les Kiss said, lamenting some poor execution and turnovers.
Irish lock Cormac Daly played 80 minutes for the Reds, Connor Vest played his first minutes since fracturing his neck last season, and back-up scrum half Louis Werchon was sharp.
Kiss was pleased with fullbacks Jordan Petaia and Jock Campbell, while Tom Lynagh (back) is likely to get his chance at No.10 against the Waratahs next week after Lawson Creighton and Harry McLaughlin-Phillips shared the duties.
While the Reds’ scrum killed the Force, both teams struggled at the lineout.
For the Force, Test-capped hooker Feleti Kaitu’u was strong off the bench, while Potter only enhanced his reputation as a quality finisher. Donaldson, too, looked comfortable at fly-half.
Test midfielder Hunter Paisami was one of the Reds’ best, with the strong runner making life particularly uncomfortable for Tim Anstee.
Halfback Tate McDermott was lively, while his replacement in the second third of the match, Louis Werchon, was also impressive.
Creighton, who was given first crack in the No.10 jersey, struggled.
Veteran James O’Connor’s training setback (hamstring) has ruled him out of both pre-season clashes.
The Melbourne Rebels, who went into voluntary administration this week, also notched a statement victory.
They beat the Waratahs 38-12 in Moorabbin, with star recruit Taniela Tupou unscathed in a 30-minute stint after injury ruined his World Cup.
Former Queensland and Wallabies lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto also impressed.
In Canberra, the Brumbies overcame a 28-7 deficit to post a fighting 43-40 win over Fijian Drua.
The Brumbies struggled to keep pace with the speedy Drua in the opening 30 minutes, but they finished with a flurry, scoring six of the last eight tries of the match.
Angus Staniforth, the cousin of former Brumby Tom Staniforth, scored the go-ahead try with a speedy run in the 73rd minute, before Dan Nelson crossed a short time later to give the home side a match-winning eight-point buffer.
AAP with staff writers